New Sentiment Analysis Reveals Reasons Behind Stance on Confederate Statues

Tom H. C. Anderson
August 21st, 2017

Text Analytics Poll™ shows asking respondents to provide reasons for their opinions may increase cognition and decrease “No Opinion”

Asking People WHY They Support/Oppose Civil War Monuments May Affect Results. Judging from the TV news and social media, the entire country is up in arms over the status of Confederate Civil War monuments. What really is the mood of the country in regard to these statues?

A quick Google search turned up the chart below, which to YouGov’s credit broke out not just Democrats VS Republicans, but also blacks VS whites. On a high level this structured survey question, which allowed respondents to answer a standard five-point agreement scale from ‘strongly approve’ to ‘strongly disapprove,’ seems to indicate that “almost half of Americans (48%)” want the Charlottesville Robert E. Lee statue to stay.

While emotions as depicted on TV and social media are running  high, there doesn’t seem to be much reasoned discussion about WHY people feel so strongly on either side. Therefore, we were curious if rather than just asking a closed-ended agreement scale, what would happen instead if respondents were asked to elaborate on their choice with a reason?

Note: the goal here is not to uncover all the best reasons for or against keeping the statues. If that was the case we could approach a handful of social science professors with expertise in history, civil rights or ethics and psychology. Instead, we were curious to see if simply asking someone to consider a reason for their choice (even if they could not give a very good one) would affect the proportions of those agreeing or disagreeing. Of course, we were also curious about how many reasons each side might enumerate and what the quality of those reasons might be.

We asked a random sample of 1,500 Americans the following:

Q. Should Confederate Civil War Monuments be allowed in the US, why or why not?

Asking respondents to provide a reason, and using Text Analytics to measure sentiment, provided an almost identical number in favor of removing Confederate Civil War statues (29%) as the simple Likert scale poll; however, it halved the number of “Don’t Know/Don’t Care” responses (just 10%), apparently to the benefit of those who support keeping Confederate Civil War statues intact (61%).

EMOTIONS VS EXPLICIT REASONS

Let’s have a look at the reasons each side provided…

First, it’s noteworthy but not surprising that a number of the comments registered high emotional valence – especially anger – among both groups. Among those who favor keeping the statues, there is also significantly more fear/anxiety expressed in their comments.

As for the specific reasons, among those who want statues to remain, ‘history’ (implicitly the preservation of) is the most frequently mentioned reason by far (46%), and that history shouldn’t be deleted (3%), and history is both Good and Bad (2%).

The main argument among those who want to remove the statues is that Confederates were losers and traitors (9%) and that these statues should be limited to museums and battle grounds (8%), that glorifying what these men stood for is wrong (6%), as well as more general mentions of its symbolism of hate or slavery (6%).

A QUICK LOOK AT REGION

We took a quick look at answers by geography. Southerners were 5% more likely than total to mention the historic importance of the statues (35% VS 30% in total). They were also half as likely to have made the argument that statues for losers/traitors aren’t appropriate (1.7% VS 2.8% in total).

Americans in the Northeast region were significantly more likely than average to say they weren’t sure or didn’t care (7% VS 5% in total), and were also significantly more likely to mention the importance of “remembering” (3% VS 1% in total).

Americans in the West Region were significantly less likely to mention the importance of ‘History’ (25% VS 30% in Total).

The Verdict Changes When Asked Why

The court of public opinion in a standard Likert scale instrument appears fairly evenly split on whether or not to remover Confederate Civil War monuments, but when we ask people to explain why they hold a position on this matter in their own words, we see a significant shift in the data toward keeping these monuments intact.

Most respondents didn’t offer any surprises in terms of their explanations for why they support/oppose keeping the monuments. Indeed, a few arguments on both sides have already been fleshed out in the media, and this may have affected how people responded.

The ah-ha for us in this exercise was that the “don’t care/don’t knows” shrank by half when respondents were asked to provide a reason for their opinion. Whether this is a matter of causality, of course, is debatable. But it does suggest that allowing people to explain in their own words will produce a different, possibly more accurate picture, as well as which reasons have strongest appeal.

@TomHCAnderson

*Note: n=1,500 responses were collected via Google Surveys 8/19-8/21 2017. Google Surveys allow researchers to reach a validated U.S. General Population Representative sample by intercepting people attempting to access high-quality online content or who have downloaded the Google Opinion Rewards mobile app. Results are +/- 2.53% accurate at the 95% confidence interval. Data was analyzed using OdinText 8/21/17. Request more info on OdinText here.

About Tom H. C. Anderson

Tom H. C. Anderson is the founder and managing partner of OdinText, a venture-backed firm based in Stamford, CT whose eponymous, patented SAS platform is used by Fortune 500 companies like Disney, Coca-Cola and Shell Oil to mine insights from complex, unstructured and mixed data. A recognized authority and pioneer in the field of text analytics with more than two decades of experience in market research, Anderson is the recipient of numerous awards for innovation from industry associations such as CASRO, ESOMAR and the ARF. He was named one of the “Four under 40” market research leaders by the American Marketing Association in 2010. He tweets under the handle @tomhcanderson.

5 thoughts on “New Sentiment Analysis Reveals Reasons Behind Stance on Confederate Statues”

  1. Tom: Fascinating, as always with your work, but am unclear how DK replies to Likert qtn could impact following o/e response content; that is, if a split sample design was used. Or did all respondents answer both qtns? And was the open end qtn visible as respondents answered the Likert?

  2. Hi Bart, there was only the one single OE quesiton in our poll. Was comparing those findings to the YouGov structured question (5 point likert scale) as well as other structured polls like Valiant Research, etc.

  3. wonderful. An item about the importance of the “cognitive” side of interviews. If respondents have the oppotunity of self explaining a question, their understanding grows and the “dont’t know” syndrome disappears. Open questions are more informative than closed ones. But they can be analyzed with ease only through advanced text analytics.
    Data analytics and text analytitcs will penetrate all of Market Research.

  4. Fascinating, would be interested to know if DK/NA shrinks on other types of questions that are perhaps a bit less volatile. I confess I am amazed at the % of “No opinion” expressed by Blacks in the YouGov poll. What happened with this group on your survey with the open end? Or is that just confounded with geography?

  5. the “W” word is important. The statement, “shrank by half when respondents were asked to provide a reason for their opinion,” is key. Seems like a lot of the polls that appeared incorrect in the last presidential election could have benefited by asking the follow up questions. Good work!

Comments are closed.

Search